Colleagues and friends of acting solicitor general Neal Katyal organized a top-tier farewell party at the Justice Department on his last day in office Monday afternoon, featuring no fewer than three Supreme Court justices, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., new SG Donald Verrilli Jr. and White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, among others. Longtime deputy SG Edwin Kneedler, who has argued 113 cases before the Court, was the emcee, praising Katyal as a "terrific advocate" and for his "insistence on candor" with the Court.
"He's really damn smart," Ruemmler said of Katyal, adding that she and Katyal have been close personal friends for 17 years. "We have grown up as lawyers together." Ruemmler read a note of thanks from her boss, President Barack Obama.
Verrilli, whom Katyal introduced to the Court earlier in the day, thanked Katyal for being "an exceptional steward" of the office of solicitor general. Katyal served as principal deputy from the beginning of the Obama administration until last year when he became acting SG as Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court. "The place is in great shape, and that's thanks to you, Neal," said Verrilli.
In her remarks, Kagan sounded especially sorrowful about Katyal's departure from government service. She said it was "one of the honors and privileges of my life" to work with Katyal. "I learned from you how to be a great lawyer." Kagan joked that when she became SG she batted around some ideas for a new deputy in a conversation with Holder, but he kept bringing the discussion back to keeping Katyal on. That was a discussion, she said, that "I was most happy to have lost."
Offering a glimpse into her own time as SG, Kagan said it was "one of the most difficult years in my life," in part because of the confirmation process both for SG and the Supreme Court. "It was a great year, but a hard year," she said. "I could not have had a better friend" than Neal to help her through it. "When it comes to other people's problems, Neal has 100 hours a day" to listen and help, she said.